Introduction to the Mortuary Customs of American Indians HTML version
the philosophy of this department of human conduct.
General conclusions can be reached with safety only after
materials from many sources have been obtained. It will not be
safe for the collector to speculate much upon that which he
observes. His own theory or explanation of customs will be of little
worth, but the theory and explanation given by the Indians will be
of the greatest value. What do the Indians do, and say, and believe?
When these are before us it matters little whether our
generalizations be true or false. Wiser men may come and use the
facts to a truer purpose. It is proposed to make a purely objective
study of the Indians, and, as far as possible, to leave the record
unmarred by vain subjective speculations.
The student who is pursuing his researches in this field should
carefully note all of the customs, superstitions, and opinions of the
Indians relating to—
1. The care of the lifeless body prior to burial, much of which he
will find elaborated into sacred ceremonies.
2. The method of burial, including the site of burial, the attitude in
which the body is placed, and the manner in which it is investured.
Here, also, he will find interesting and curious ceremonial
observances. The superstitions and opinions of the people relating
to these subjects are of importance.
3. The gifts offered to the dead; not only those placed with the
body at the time of burial, but those offered at a subsequent time
for the benefaction of the departed on his way to the other world,
and for his use on arrival. Here, too, it is as important for us to
know the ceremonies with which the gifts are made as to know the
character of the gifts themselves.
4. An interesting branch of this research relates to the customs of
mourning, embracing the time of mourning, the habiliments, the